Day 1 (Part 1)–Slubes

Note that this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out

A Note from an Author

Good day, readers. My name is Wally Plotch. I suppose you could call me the writer of this work. Duth Olec prefers to call me the court stenographer, but even simply stenographer would not be wholly accurate. I guess I’m somewhere between a reporter and a writer. Duth is the creator and the presenter. It is our combined efforts that bring this story to you.

{And any problems you have with it are Wally’s fault!}

Hey! No! You said you wouldn’t interfere on this first outing!

{Well we haven’t outed yet, have we? I just want everybody to know that it’s all Wally’s fault.}

Stop that. Or I’ll make you do this on your own.

{All right, all right. Go ahead; I’ll get things started…}

***

Emptiness. All was emptiness. As far as the eye could see, emptiness. From the spot he stood at to the edge of the horizon, completely flat. The sky, white, as if whiteout had spilled all over it.

Still, it wasn’t completely boring. The floor, which felt like stiff cardboard, had a nice checkered pattern.

Okay, it was an ugly checkered pattern, a pale brown alternating light and dark, but at least it was different.

Either way, the fellow standing there hadn’t the time to think about the floor pattern. His name was Numer. He was a slube, an upright banana slug creature with bright, yellow skin.

Numer’s big, round eyes, resting on his head, scanned the horizon. Nothing had changed. His mouth quivered, extending out like two baguettes; the top one gave the appearance of a nose. He was clad in white, starting from his neck to the ground where his body became his tail. The sleeves went down to his hands.

Numer knew what was really going on. He knew that he was nothing more than a pawn in this game. An insignificant pawn, only there to be used by his superiors.

Numer began shaking. These thoughts made him nervous. He and the others were just fodder there. He had seen it happen to the other seven pawns. He was now the only one left. Soon, he, too, would take the fall for one of the other—

The pawn realized something was now racing across the horizon. Before he could tell what it was it changed direction. Now it was charging straight for him.

It was a knight—an armored slube riding a muscular, floating beast known as a herf. It was a majestic though legless creature with a body similar to that of a horse but the blubbery tail, fins, and head of a carp.

Okay, so it wasn’t majestic. It floundered about as it swam through the air, zigzagging like it was dancing drunk on a Friday night after a long day of hard work. The knight atop the herf prodded it constantly with his spurs to right the creature’s path.

The knight’s black armor told Numer that he was from the opposing army. Numer lifted his round hands in an offensive stance. He wasn’t going down without a fight.

That is, he wasn’t going down without cowering first. Numer turned around with eyes shut tight and covered his head with his hands. The knight was coming too fast. He couldn’t stand up to one. He was certainly a goner. He-

The herf cried out with a blubbery neigh, interrupting Numer’s thoughts. Turning around, he saw the enemy knight collapsed on the floor and the herf wobbling about.

Numer’s eyes lit up; he saw the most beautiful, glorious sight he’d seen since being dumped there: the queen, Cherry. She was an angel come from above to smite Numer’s assailant. Like Numer, she was dressed in white, but she also wore a white crown atop her head.

Numer thought she must have slammed into the herf with her tail, which slubes normally used to push themselves forward. The force must have sent the herf reeling and the knight crashing to the floor.

The knight and herf shattered into tiny pieces. Cherry turned to Numer and asked, “You’re the last remaining pawn, right?”

Numer stammered nonsense, unable to assemble his thoughts before her majesty. Finally he got out a feeble, “Yes.”

Cherry grabbed his hand—it was wet[1]—and began to drag him away. His heart raced and he almost went limp. “Then come with me. We’re making you into another queen.”

“Me? A queen? But I wouldn’t be good for a position of power, I’m not up to that task, I’m not even a, but—but—but—”

They screamed. The world around them jerked up; the tile they were on had dropped open into a pit. They plummeted until the universe stopped existing.

When it again existed, they found themselves on an orange rectangle. Instead of a checkerboard, they could see a line of rectangles—four lines making a square with a large field in the center.

“Where are we?” Numer asked. Ahead of them, several vehicles were parked.

Cherry read a sign on the orange rectangle. “It looks like we’re at… New York Avenue.”

“I’ve never heard of it,” Numer said.

“Well, howdy there!” The two slubes turned and saw what appeared to be a thimble. It was their height, made of pewter, and wore a pewter top hat. “I see you landed on my space!”

“Your space?” Numer asked (somehow not unnerved that he was talking to a giant thimble).

“Yup, I own it. And you see that building, there?” Next to the field stood a red hotel made of plastic. It was no taller than Numer. “That’s my hotel. For landing on my space, you owe me one thousand dollars!”

“We what?”

“What, just because we fell here?” Cherry asked.

“That’s the rules of the game,” the top hat-wearing thimble said. “Pay up!”

“But we don’t have any money! We don’t even have an economy where we’re from!” Numer said.

“Well, you’ll have to raise the money somehow. Until you do, I’ll be taking her as collateral.” A monster-sized, pewter-furred Scottish terrier emerged from the field like a pewter demon from pewter Hades. Everything’s pewter here, except for the hotels.

The dog, towering over everything, let out a piercing howl. Cherry screamed as it grabbed her with its monstrous jaw. The thimble hopped up onto the dog and it ran into the horizon.

“Wait, come back here!” Numer yelled. He began to chase after them, though he knew there was nothing he could do.

A police siren blared and Numer halted. To his left, a large, opaque cumulus cloud was in the sky flashing blue and red lights. It flew across the board and landed nearby. A hole opened up and an identical but smaller cloud flew out. Accompanied by it was a blue game piece shaped like a Chess pawn.

“There he is, officer,” said the blue game piece in an elderly woman’s voice.

“Are you sure he’s the culprit?” asked the cloud.

“I’m positive! The murderer was none other than Numer, in New York Avenue, with the bologna sandwich!”

“What?”

Okay, I’m going to stop now. You should have figured out this was a dream pages ago. This thing goes on and on and on. We can’t spend pages on something that’s not really happening.

{Sure we can! This dream is full of symbolism and character exposivelopment and fun stuff like that!}

It’s nonsense! It’s board game nonsense! Nobody wants to read about ridiculous dreams for twenty pages!

{Then they can read us arguing for twenty pages!}

Not that, either.

{All right, all right. Let’s move on.}

***

In reality, Numer was asleep in his bed. A clock next to him read noon. A 23-year old[2] slube and sleeping past noon was his regular schedule. Not a lot of gusto, this guy, huh? Little did he know this would be his redoing… or something like that.

Numer’s house—a one-bedroom home with a mattress and a chair—was located in the town of Nottle. Nottle was a small, peaceful town of about fifty, its buildings wooden and its land grassy. Houses lined the edge of town. A tropical breeze; sweet smells; brisk air. Ocean surrounded it on all sides but east.

In the southern part of Nottle was a farmer’s market, called so even without an economy. People were exchanging fruit, chatting, and generally hanging around. Three slubes were walking (or, rather, their tails were pushing them forward, but let’s stop splitting hairs)through the market to meet up with one another.

“Paige! Gern! Over here!” the red-clothed slube called out. Paige and Gern saw their friend sitting at a table outside the Apple Shack café, waving to them. They walked/tail-pushed/you-get-the-pictureover to her.

“Hi, Cherry,” they greeted, sitting down. “What’s the news from our inside girl?” Gern asked.

Cherry rolled her eyes. “Not much. It’s not like anything ever happens around here, you know?”

“The last time you said nothing was going on, taxes were raised the next day,” Paige said.

“We don’t have taxes, Paige,” Gern pointed out. “We don’t even have an economy.”

“Yeah, but… we were told that we would need a higher rate of farming produced,” Paige recalled.

“Well, there was only one farmer for the whole town,” Cherry said. “We’re lucky not a lot of people come to live here.”

“And some people even leave to go live in the next town,” Paige said. “I can’t blame them. Did I tell you, last time I visited I saw this beautiful necklace, and I’m telling you, it was almost enough to make me wish we did have an economy.”

“Enough to make you start working to make stuff you could trade for it?” Gern asked.

“And give up this easy lifestyle?” Paige asked, and they laughed.

As they continued their conversation, Cherry looked up into the sky, blue and clear with but a single cloud.

Suddenly the sky flashed, like a sheet of lightning radiating out above the town. “Hey, hey, hey,” Cherry said, interrupting Paige and Gern; “what’s that?” They looked up. The sky flashed again, repeating at a quicker pace.

The flashing intensified. Light from the sun distorted. The rest of the town took notice, looking up at the phenomenon. They were unsure of what to make of it…

A giant, crackling pillar appeared like a second sun shooting down towards Nottle. It was falling towards the very center of town. There sat a pear-shaped, crystalline gem the size of a slube. The pillar’s light shined off the dark gray gem in a rainbow of colors.

With a deafening boom, the pillar slammed into the crystal. A shattering, reverberating screech like high-pitched thunder flooded Nottle.

The townspeople went into a panic. They were under attack! The pillar was like a vacuum, pulling things towards it. Everyone fled for their homes, trying to not get pulled in, their screams drowned out by the screech.

The crystal was ripped up from the ground it was in and drawn into the pillar. The surrounding soil broke up as it was also pulled up. By now the entire market, all of Nottle seemed empty as a ghost town… Everyone had hidden in their homes as the crystal was lifted up into the sky…

***

High above the planet Mintop, at the origin of the pillar that had just hit Nottle, a space station, bigger than Nottle and made of several spheres, orbited the planet.

“Touchdown. We’ve gotten hold of the crystal. Bringing it up now.”

Inside the space station were octopus-like, squid-like spleech. They had tall, thin heads with similarly-elongated eyes and a layer of flappy cap-like skin. Their bodies were puny, but had four long tentacles. A line of small holes around the base of their necks were used for speaking. Most were hard at work on computers: typing in commands, taking notes, and monitoring the planet below.

“Keep it steady. This far from the surface, the slightest disruption could break the contact.”

One figure in the room towered over all others at four times their height: their commander, the owner of the space station, a fierce presence throughout the galaxy: The Conqueror. Shouldn’t be too hard to tell what he does.

The Conqueror, thousands of years old[3], was like the spleech, a gray cephalopod. He had much longer tentacles and a round, bulbous head bigger than a whole spleech, with two glaring teardrop-shaped eyes. The back half of his head was replaced with a glass case, inside of which his enormous, pulsing brain could be seen.

A spleech holding a clipboard walked up to The Conqueror. “Everything is running smoothly, sir,” it said. Reading from the clipboard, it continued, “We’re getting new data about the crystal, and it is unlike anything I have ever-”

The Conqueror snatched the clipboard and looked at the data. He was flabbergasted: the readings were enormous. It out-powered any machine or source of energy they had encountered before. And yet their data showed this planet was just three-quarters to being a type-I civilization. The power output of the crystal was threefold this planet’s energy consumption! “What have the calculations shown? How much of the fleet could be powered with this?”

“The entire fleet, five times over!” the spleech reported.

“Outstanding!” The Conqueror exclaimed, laughing as he spoke. This invasion would be a snap! “We won’t have to look for any more sources until after the invasion’s complete! This planet won’t know what hit them… until it’s too late, and they will know full well what hit them: the force of The Conqueror!”

“Hail The Conqueror!” the spleech shouted.

***

Numer gasped and opened his eyes. He saw his ceiling. It had just been a bad dream…

Numer tried to get out of bed. Still in a daze, he fell onto the carpeted floor with the sheets caught around him. He checked his clock; nearly an hour after noon. A little early, he thought, but, oh well. He pulled himself out of the sheets and put on his regular blue shirt.

When Numer opened his front door, an empty and silent Nottle greeted him. He immediately felt something was wrong. Nobody was around. Had everyone else slept in like him? No, that idea was a load of baloney. There had to be people up by this time. He was the latest sleeper he knew!

Instead, it looked more like Nottle had been frozen. The sky was gray, but there was only one cloud. There was no wind, but the grass looked windblown.

Numer crept through the town searching for anybody. If anyone was around, they would be in the market, but it, too, was empty. “Hello? Is anyone around?” he called out.

The Apple Shack’s windows were open. In fact, the sign read open, but there was no one behind the counter. It felt like everyone had been zapped out of existence. This idea spooked Numer. He was getting out of there.

But out of where? The town was still empty! Numer kept looking for someone, anyone, his pace quickening. He could hear his breathing. He could hear his tail rub against the ground. Every so often he stopped. Was that him? Was that someone else? Is someone there? He couldn’t take the silence anymore. Finally he shouted, “No one’s around! Where is everybody?”

The silence shattered like glass but almost immediately put itself back together. Then it broke again:

“Why, over here!”

“Huh? What?” Numer spun about, looking for the source of the voice. He saw someone standing near the center of town and hurried over. It was a lone slube. “Oh, uh, hello there.”

“How do you do; my name is Professor Zeth,” the strange slube introduced himself, shaking Numer’s hand with both of his hands. He looked to be in his early 30s, clothed in teal and wearing thick, foggy glasses.

This professor didn’t seem like the type of person who would be out while the town was empty, and yet he seemed exactly like the type of person who would investigate such a sudden occurrence. Not bold, like an officer detective, and yet so interested in things, that, how could he keep away?

“Uh… hi. I’m Numer,” he uncertainly greeted this slube. Uncertain, anxious, and every bit as confused as before—the town was empty save him and this slube he’d never met before. As he spoke, he continued to look around for anyone he recognized. Despite the strangeness of it, he decided to try and get some answers. “Where is everyone?”

“In hiding, I suppose. That was quite a big shock to the town. But you must have been brave enough to venture out in the aftermath, right?” Professor Zeth asked, still shaking Numer’s hand.

“Shock? Aftermath? Brave? Me?”

“Yes! See here?” Zeth motioned with his arms to a grassless crater slightly wider than a slube next to them.

“It’s a crater,” Numer stated, looking at it. “Did something crash?”

“No, no, something was taken away. This is where the crystal was,” Zeth explained.

“Oh, that weird crystal thing that’s been here so long no one knows where it’s from?”

“That’s the one,” Zeth said. “If you like, I think can explain some things if you come with me.” Zeth turned around and headed northwest. Despite his confusion, Numer followed to find some answers.

***

In a room empty of doors, windows, or furnishings huddled seven spleech around a radio receiver. The words of The Conqueror played out from it.

“How much of the fleet could be powered with this?”

“The entire fleet, five times over!”

Upon hearing the power output, one of the spleech shouted, “Did you hear that? Enough energy to power the fleet five times!” Flailing its tentacles in the air it yelled, “That’s it! We’re done! Ptooey! There’s no way we can stop him now!”

Another spleech slapped some sense into it. “This is no time to give up!” Addressing all of them, it proclaimed, “Listen! We joined together because we knew that The Conqueror had to be stopped one way or another. The only thing we can do is make sure that he doesn’t get that crystal.”

“But how do we do that?” another asked.

“We’ll have to sabotage his operations.”

“But how do we do that?” the same one asked.

“Are you going to contribute anything useful to this mission?”

“Look,” said one, adjusting its glasses, “it’s very simple what we have to do…”

Back in the control center, a spleech made an announcement: “The crystal is now halfway to the station.”

“Yes… the time has come. Soon this planet will bow down to me, and I, The Conqueror, will have the foothold in this sector needed to conquer the rest!” He held up his tentacles in triumph.

Obviously, he lived for this. Otherwise his name would be The Baker, or The Radio Show Host, or The Crash Test Dummy, or whatever other job occupation he might have. But no, he was The Conqueror, and Mintop was next on his to-do list.

A monitor showed the location of the crystal between the planet and the space station, constant updates on the status of the operation coming up. A spleech operated the tractor beam controls to keep it stable.

The Conqueror and some spleech looked over a map of Mintop. Pointing to a set of islands, The Conqueror said, “These islands are fairly separated from the more populous continents. If we attack the islands first, we can set up a base and then obliterate the continental forces.”

“Won’t the continental areas notice the fleet arriving?” asked a spleech.

“I think you are overestimating the advancement of this planet. From what we have gathered, they won’t even realize what’s happening until our attack on them has begun. We’ll already be on the planet and can take control of most of the seaways.”

Slowly, another spleech entered the control room. It crept near the wall and repeatedly glanced back and forth. With The Conqueror’s back turned, this spleech made its move: it lunged for the spleech at the tractor beam controls. With all the force a spleech could muster, it shoved the spleech off the stool to the floor.

“Hey! What was that for?” yelled the spleech. It shouted as the other one turned a dial that decreased the tractor beam’s power. “What are you doing? That’ll shut it off!”

The spleech climbed up and tried to twist the dial back. The rebel tried to push the other away with its tentacles. They slapped at each other, and soon their tentacles became tangled between themselves and the toggles and levers. Still they vied for control over the tractor beam. Each one yelled bad insults at each other, although mostly they just yelled, “Get off!” a lot.

The Conqueror turned to the scuffle and shouted, “What’s going on over there?” Now many spleech attacked the rebel. They finally pulled it away from the control panel and regained control. The crystal was still in the tractor beam.

“Don’t worry, sir! It’s all under control!” said a spleech. At that moment a door swung open. Three spleech carrying laser guns barged in and fired upon the spleech at the tractor beam controls.

“Death to all tyrants!” shouted a spleech rebel with a robotic tentacle.

“Yeah, we tire of tyrants!” another added. Once a path was cleared they made a mad dash for the controls. They were within reach…

The rebels yelped; they were grabbed by The Conqueror’s long tentacles and pulled away. He held the four rebels each in one tentacle.

“You thought you could rebel against The Great Conqueror?” shouted The Great Conqueror as he held them at eye level.

“I thought you were just ‘The Conqueror’,” a rebel said with all the cheek a creature without cheeks could muster.

“Great or not, you have made a fatal mistake,” The Conqueror told it. Every previous attempt to rebel against him had failed, and the resulting public torture… It led to a stronger grip on the planet that saw the torture. But for a spleech to try and rebel…

“So… you’re not actually great?” asked the rebel.

…and then try to mock him? The Conqueror tightened his grip on that rebel and threatened, “I would watch what you say, for there is nothing stopping me from squeezing the life out of you.” He suspected there were more rebels and would need to interrogate these four. However, one less captive would not matter…

While this exchange was going on, one of the rebels freed its mechanical tentacle. The end of it opened and shot out a bomb. It exploded, blasting the control panel apart.

“NO!” cried The Conqueror. The computer smoked and fell silent, ceasing all activity.

The spleech began working furiously to get a status update on the crystal. “We’re losing visual on the crystal, sir!”

“Power signals decreasing!”

“They’re spreading out!”

“Crystal gem entering Mintop atmosphere!”

“Sir! It appears the crystal is breaking apart in the atmosphere!”

“What?” The screen before them showed dots on the map of Mintop. Each dot marked where the crystal landed after breaking up. “This rather multiplies the problem, then…”

“Sorry, Conqueror,” said the cheeky rebel, “but your crystal is in another ca-” The Conqueror cut it off by tightening his grip again.

The Conqueror ordered in some guards. “Lock these rebels up. Interrogate them. Find out who else dares to go against the might of The Conqueror.” He wanted to interrogate them himself, but he now had more pressing concerns. Turning to the spleech at the computers, he said, “Find those shards! This isn’t over! I will have that crystal!”

***

Numer and Zeth arrived at the western edge of Nottle where the sea began. Just a stone’s throw away was a grass-covered bump coming out of the water. Actually, more like a stone’s drop; Numer could just lean towards it from the main island and grab onto it. It couldn’t have been bigger than his own bedroom.

Zeth grabbed the bump and pulled, revealing a fake grass covering over a window no bigger than a slube’s head.

“What’s this?” Numer asked.

“My lab,” Zeth responded, opening the window.

“Your lab? Why have I never heard of it? Actually, why have I never heard of you?”

“Yes, well, I am rather busy and don’t come out into the town often,” Zeth explained.

“Is that why your lab is in this dinky island split from the rest of town?” Numer asked.

“Well… no, it was the only place within my budget limit,” Zeth admitted. “Come on.” He entered the window-door, and Numer followed. Inside was empty but cramped. There was only enough room for about five people if they were crammed in.

This is your lab?” Numer asked. He was completely unimpressed (despite not having a lab of his own).

“No, this is the elevator,” Zeth said. Numer’s stomach was launched into his head. The floor dropped down so quickly that he felt weightless for a moment. It stopped, and he nearly smacked into the floor.

“Don’t do that!” Numer yelled.

“Sorry. I suppose I should’ve warned you,” Zeth said. The door opened, leading the way into Zeth’s lab. It was inside a cave not much bigger than Numer’s house. The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of smooth rock. The cave was dry, warm, and lit with working electricity. It was slightly shaped like a loaf of bread, and Numer wondered if it was artificially carved out.

The lab was rather a mess; there were several machine parts strewn about, half-finished blueprints everywhere, and some chemicals spilled over on some tables, the floor, and walls. “Sorry about the mess; I’ve been busy, as I said.” (With mad scientist shenanigans, no doubt. Bet you ten-to-one Numer’s gonna get turned into a potato.)

Numer looked around the lab. He was amazed at the technology sitting right below his town—satellite dishes, monitors, gizmos that Numer couldn’t even describe—but soon remembered why he was there. “So, that crystal? Where is it? What happened out there? What’s going on?”

“In order, yes… I’m not sure… mostly a flash of light… and the last question is a bit harder to answer,” Zeth replied. He showed Numer a device no bigger than his head with a satellite dish attached. (Get ready for some exposition.)

“One of the reasons I have set up my lab here is that I have been studying the crystal, trying to unlock its secrets. However, earlier today I stopped getting readings from it.”

“Because it disappeared,” Numer assumed.

“At first I thought this scanning unit was malfunctioning. Then I realized there were still readings coming from the crystal, but fainter.” Zeth pointed up. “They were coming from the sky. The crystal was being pulled up into the sky.”

Numer had seen things like cranes that could pull objects into the air, but there was nothing like that out there when he’d gone out. “By what?”

“I don’t know. When I got outside, it was already gone.”

So much for figuring out where it went. Numer did have a question Zeth could answer, though. “You said you were trying to unlock its secrets. What does that mean?”

Professor Zeth laid a chart on the table that showed a line graph steadily going up. (The chart doubles as a representation of the amount of exposition in this story so far.)

“This crystal has an immense amount of energy stored in it. Over time, that energy has actually increased. By now, I calculate that it has enough to power an entire planet, although utilizing such energy would require much more study. That’s something I, and others, would like to see happen, but work on it is slow—we don’t want the word spreading too much.”

“Why not? Wouldn’t more people be good?”

“Perhaps, but on the other hand, it could be dangerous. Such power, still untested… and if it fell into the wrong hands…” Zeth mused.

“I guess that makes sense… Where did it come from, anyway?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know. I’m not exactly a history buff.”

“It’s there to keep something from breaking free,” spoke the voice of a girl. Numer and Zeth turned around. In front of the elevator stood a slube Numer’s age—the red-clothed Cherry, holding a book bag.

“Cherry!” Numer and Zeth both said at once. Numer’s throat became dry.

Zeth asked, “What are you doing here?”

“The same thing you are, Zeth,” Cherry answered. She walked over to them and placed several books on the table. She stopped when she noticed Numer; he couldn’t meet her eyes and with a wobbly smile only waved his hand to her. “Who’re you?”

Numer dropped his head down. She’d never even noticed him before.

“His name is Numer,” Zeth answered. “He was the only one outside after the, um, incident.”

“Really?” Cherry asked. “Wow. Everyone else fled for shelter. ‘We’re being invaded!’ ‘It’s the end of the world!’ Everyone’s a mess. I’m glad there’s someone who actually went out to find out what’s going on.”

Numer smiled at that but knew the praise was unwarranted. He would have done the same had he not been sleeping in, as usual. Still, it gave him the courage to open his mouth so he could ask a question.

Unfortunately, it didn’t give him the courage to actually say anything, leaving him stuck there with his mouth open.

After a pause, Cherry asked him, “Are you okay?”

“Wh… Excuse us for a moment!” Numer panicked and pulled Zeth aside. He knew he couldn’t bring himself to directly speak with Cherry. He had to ask Zeth to ask the question.

“Why can’t you?” Zeth asked.

“Don’t ask that, ask my question!” Numer said.

“Okay. What do you mean by preventing something from breaking free?”

“No, don’t ask me, ask Cherry,” Numer said.

“Oh, right.” They turned around, and Zeth asked Cherry the question.

“Uh, right,” Cherry said, an eyelid raised. She flipped through one of the books she had. Images of browned parchments, discolored paintings, and faded maps flipped by. “I’ve spent a lot of time researching history in the nearby city, trying to find where we come from.”

“I come from Interpolis up north,” Zeth offered.

“You know what I mean, where the slube comes from. All the other species can trace their roots to Hackney and Interp and other known locations, but not the slube. I’ve found references to an island that the slubes supposedly migrated from, but it’s never been found, and this is off-topic, I’m sorry.

“Anyway, the earliest texts to make reference to the crystal also make reference to a great demon that had once ravaged the islands. Tales speak of a band of heroes who used the crystal to imprison the demon deep underground.”

“Sounds like a lot of ancient superstitious gobbledygook to me,” Zeth remarked.

“Do you have a better explanation?” Cherry asked. “Anyway, it says that the crystal was placed in Nottle to contain the demon within its prison and to restrain its power so it couldn’t break free.”

“If there really was some ‘great demon’ buried underneath this town, we would know about it!” Zeth protested.

“Has an excavation ever gone that deep?” Cherry asked.

“Well, no, but-”

“Um, can I say something?” Numer interrupted. “I, um, I believe in Cherry’s research.” Really, he wasn’t sure himself. He just wanted to defend Cherry’s position.

“There, you’re outvoted,” Cherry said. “Are you going to keep interrupting?”

“Oh, it doesn’t even matter why it was there in the first place,” Zeth asserted. “Even if it was there to imprison something, it’s not like we can get it back at this-” A loud smash outside caught their attention. The three of them hurried out to see what happened.

At the top of the elevator they found Zeth’s door smashed through and broken. “My door’s busted…” he lamented. “I’ll have to build a new one.”

“How about an actual door this time so we don’t have to climb through a window to get in?” Cherry suggested.

“Uh, so, what is this?” Numer asked. He picked up a dark gem about the length of his arm.

“It looks familiar,” Zeth said. He took it for a closer look.

“I think it’s a piece of the crystal,” Cherry said.

“A piece of the crystal!” Zeth exclaimed halfway through Cherry’s statement. They looked into the sky and saw it shimmering with debris falling to the planet below.

“It’s falling… in pieces,” Cherry said.

“No need to be dismayed; pieces or not, this does mean we could rebuild the crystal,” Zeth said.

“But it’s falling in pieces,” Numer repeated, astounded that he would consider trying to collect them. “All over the island… no, even beyond the island! Everywhere, they’re just-”

Pain filled Numer’s head as another shard dropped right on top of it.

***

“Here,” Cherry said, handing Numer a bag of ice wrapped in a towel. He put it on top of his eye that the shard fell onto—now a black eye. They were back in Professor Zeth’s lab; Zeth was examining the two shards of crystal.

“So what, was that demon so evil because it went around giving everyone black eyes?” Numer asked.

“C’mon, it’s not that bad,” Cherry assured him. Numer smiled. She was so nice, he thought, even to a nobody like him.

“You’re lucky our eye area heals quickly,” Zeth said. “Should heal in about a day.”

“So about the shards?” Cherry asked, turning to him.

“Well, they’re definitely parts of the crystal,” Zeth said. “Same type of energy reading, although weaker. There’s only a fraction of the whole thing here.” He brought one closer, but knocked it into the other; they merged together into a larger piece. “Why, they stick together! That’s convenient.”

“That crystal’s really weird,” Numer said.

“Now then, this is important,” Zeth said, losing his usual lighthearted tone. “Whether this crystal was set there to restrain something or not, something is going on, and this crystal may be at the center of it, whether someone is trying to release some demon or take the crystal for themselves.”

“Who would try to do that?” Cherry asked.

“I have no idea,” Zeth said, something not easy to admit. With all three of them filled with uncertainty, there wasn’t much for them to hold on to. “However, someone should rebuild the crystal, even if it’s just to investigate what’s going on.” Looking at them both, he said, “We’re the only ones who know about this. No one else is going to rebuild the crystal. It might as well be us. Are you willing to help?”

“Absolutely!” Cherry said. They both turned to Numer.

Numer… really didn’t want to get involved. He mumbled, “I… I don’t know. I mean, I have this eye, and…” He trailed off.

“I told you they heal quickly,” Zeth said. “Although, how about this—I’ll give you a gift.” After some rummaging through his junk, Zeth held up a wooden mallet. “Ta-da! I call it the Mallet Blaster.”

“It’s a wooden mallet,” Numer said, taking it with his free hand. Numer felt the handle; it was metal, not wood.

“It’s not just a mallet,” Zeth said, “and I only coated it to look wooden. Aim the flat part of the head at the wall and press the button on the handle.”

Numer found the button and, aiming for the wall, pressed it. An energy burst shot out of the other side of the mallet head behind Numer and into an open closet. Numer dropped the mallet, spun, and fell over. Cherry shouted and jumped back. Zeth just mumbled to himself. Singed boxes in the closet fell out and spilled open; paper, tools, and equipment scattered onto the floor.

Numer felt his heart thump; his arm, outstretched before him, trembled as though he held up a heavy weight. He looked at the mallet, but his vision kept blurring.

Silence gripped the lab.

“Okay, I guess I need to label front and back!” Zeth said, waving his hand up and down dismissively.

“What do you think we would face that I would need something like this?” Numer asked. Though he asked that, what scared him the most was the fact he had been holding a weapon just then.

“I don’t know,” Zeth said, “but you must think there’s something if you don’t want to come. You’re not just lazy, right?”

“Are you sure you don’t want to help?” Cherry asked.

Numer thought it over in his head. He wasn’t brave. He didn’t sign up for this. This was all a big mistake. And yet, this was his chance. He had never gotten to spend this much time with… with Cherry before… and now it was his chance… Maybe, just maybe, he could prove himself as… something? (Hey, don’t blame me for the vagueness, those were his thoughts.)

He picked up the mallet. “All right. I’m in.”

“All right!” Zeth exclaimed, clapping his hands together. “That’s bravery: doing something you don’t want to but you know you should.”

“Okay, yeah, whatever,” Numer muttered. He wanted to avoid a big speech or something. “Can I ask how we’re actually going to get to the rest of the pieces?”

“I can take care of that,” Zeth said. “Just give me some time.”

Cherry pulled out another book. “I’d like to do a bit more research; Numer, you could look around town to see if any more shards fell around.”

“Oh, um… okay.” With the Mallet Blaster in one hand and an ice pack over his eye, Numer left the lab to search for shards.

“Oh, by the way, Cherry,” Zeth said after Numer left, “does your father know you’re here?”

“What? Oh, yes, of course he does. Yes, why wouldn’t he?”

***

Outside Zeth’s lab, Nottle was still as silent and empty as a ghost town. This still creeped Numer out a little, but he began his search.

Numer looked high and low, left and right, inside the market, and everywhere else. He found nothing and was ready to go back. Then he saw something twinkle in a tree next to his house: a crystal!

Numer tried to think of how he could reach that shard. First, he tried climbing the tree. His clumsy climbing caused him to slide back down whenever he got any height.

Okay, a better idea. Numer dashed straight for the tree. He pounded the Mallet Blaster onto the ground in order to fling himself up into the tree.

The mallet sank into the ground like it was peanut butter and lost its force. Numer got no air. Instead he got dirt—he flopped onto the ground face-first not two feet away.

Numer spat out some grass and lifted himself up, brushing off the dirt. Maybe he should just go back to bed. He knew he wasn’t cut out for this.

Numer refused to giv- No, wait, he’s going back home. No, wait, he’s coming ba- No, he’s giving up aga… No, wait, he’s decided, he’s not giving up! (At least not this early in the story!)

Numer held up the mallet, his arm shaking. Hoping the mallet wasn’t backwards again, he shot it at the tree. The energy shot flew into the tree, and… a mess of feathers fell out. A small bird flew out the tree, squawking. “Oops! Uh, sorr… uh…” Why was he talking to an animal? It couldn’t understand him.

Numer sighed. This was harder than he’d have hoped. All he could think to do was try climbing the tree again. Over and over, each time he just slid down the trunk to the ground.

Rolling over onto his back, Numer groaned. He hit the tree with the mallet a few times in desperation.

The crystal fell out and hit him on his good eye.

 

Numer took the lift back down into Zeth’s lab. Once inside he held up the crystal. “I found one.”

Cherry’s eyes widened when she saw Numer. Zeth lifted the tarp he was under and said, “Ah, fanta- Ooh…” Numer now had two black eyes. “Uh, well… it should… still heal… in a day…”

They put the shard with the larger chunk, and Cherry explained what she’d learned. “Based on my research, the crystal should be able to hold back the demon in its imprisonment even if it’s not all there, but not for long. The more of the crystal that’s there, the more time we have.”

“So we should put the crystal back in the center of town?” Numer asked.

“Seems like the best option. I don’t know how much time we really have, though,” Cherry said.

“Or if there is something down there,” Zeth added, back under the tarp. “I suppose we might as well place it back in its spot anyway.”

“So how are we going to get the rest of the shards?” Numer asked, placing a bag of ice on top of both eyes. “It’d take us half a day just to walk to the nearest city.”

“Then we won’t walk!” Zeth proclaimed, pushing the creeper he was lying on out from under the tarp. “Introducing the finished… ‘Professor Zeth’s Vehicular Device for Getting Places’!” Zeth pulled off the tarp to reveal a spherical, metal machine with wheels and an armored glass casing on the top.

“If we form a team, you are not making the name,” Cherry groaned.

“What, you don’t like it?” Zeth asked. “Then how about… The Wheeled Podamajig?”

“No.”

“Spinny Dasher Thing?”

“You can do better than that. Anyone can do better than that.”

“The Egg 1?”

“You’re really reaching now.”

Reading off a paper, Zeth said, “Well… the only name I have left is the Transpide.”

“I like that name,” Numer said.

“Then I’ll make it the Transpide!” Zeth decided.

“Is it supposed to have three wheels?” Cherry asked.

Zeth opened his mouth to say something but then looked at the Transpide. It was missing a fourth wheel! He quickly installed it and then held up his arms. “Complete!” He pointed to the back, flat with a lid covering it. “The Transpide’s engine is of my own design; it’s advanced, powerful, and gets amazing gas mileage.”

“So this should speed up the search, then?” Numer asked.

“Absolutely,” Zeth answered.

“Then let’s go rebuild that crystal!” Cherry exclaimed, throwing her fist into the air.

Numer nodded. “Right…” With two black eyes and a nervous disposition… he thought.

The Transpide’s glass casing slid open, and they entered the Transpide through a wide side door, Zeth in the single front seat, and Numer and Cherry in a back bench seat. The seats were plush, and there was enough room to easily move around, allowing Numer to see all the buttons and gizmos in the control panel up front.

At the moment, though, he was nervous about sitting next to Cherry, making him rather fidgety. He looked out the Transpide but continually glanced back at Cherry.

Zeth turned the ignition key, and the engine quietly came to life. “It’s quiet, too,” Zeth said. “Some of the vehicles in the big city up north, they make so much noise the owners are fined for disturbing the peace when they’re started!” He gripped the steering wheel and pushed down on the acceleration with his tail. They drove out of his lab through a tunnel and out into the town.

Before they left they placed the crystal where the full thing once stood. It was a far cry from the full gem but it was a start. They then drove out of Nottle towards the east, past the surrounding trees that made up the farms, and into Hackney Fields, the aptly-named fields of the island Hackney.


[1] Despite them being related to slugs, “wet” is not a normal state for their skin to be in.

[2] Slubes have an average lifespan of 80.

[3] The average lifespan of spleech varies widely, from just thirty years to hundreds of years. It’s unknown if The Conqueror really is a spleech, but if so, he’s the only one recorded to have reached an age passing 1000 and is also the only one to give himself a gender.

Day 1 (Part 2) | Table of Contents

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